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'Winking Jesus' mobile phone ad banned by regulator

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© Rex Features

A mobile phone advert featuring an illustration of Jesus Christ winking and giving the thumbs up has been banned by the UK's advertising watchdog.

The Advertising Standards Authority said that the ad, run by the Phones 4 U retail chain, was "disrespectful" to people of the Christian faith and must not be shown again.

Two versions of the press ad appeared on April 21 this year, featuring a cartoon illustration of Jesus grinning broadly and winking, with the Sacred Heart on his chest. The headline text stated: "Miraculous deals on Samsung Galaxy Android phones."

The ASA launched an investigation after 98 people complained that the ads were "offensive" due to their depiction of Jesus Christ and use of the term "miraculous". The complainants were also upset that the "disrespectful" ads were published on Maundy Thursday during the Easter period.

Phones 4 U attempted to argue that the ads were not meant to be disrespectful, but rather show "a light-hearted, positive and contemporary image of Christianity".

The company, which has also received some direct complaints about the ads, apologised for any offence caused by the ads to Christians. It said that the ads were withdrawn as soon as the negative reaction became apparent, and that there were no plans to run them again.

In its ruling, the ASA noted that Phones 4 U had not intended to cause offence, but said the timing of the ads' release gave the impression of "mocking and belittling core Christian beliefs".

"We considered that, although the ads were intended to be light-hearted and humorous, their depiction of Jesus winking and holding a thumbs-up sign, with the text 'Miraculous deals' during Easter, the Christian Holy Week which celebrated Christ's resurrection, gave the impression that they were mocking and belittling core Christian beliefs," the ASA said.

"We agreed that the ads were disrespectful to the Christian faith and were likely to cause serious offence, particularly to Christians."

After finding two breaches of the advertising code, the ASA said that the ads must "not appear again in their current form".

Last month, the ASA banned Motorola Mobility from claiming that its Atrix handset was the "world's most powerful smartphone", as it actually had less processing power than a rival.

The regulator also censured a TV ad for recycling company Mazuma Mobile for potentially making children think that they could trade their phones for cash without needing permission from their parents.

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